Body believed to be missing Florida priest found in Georgia

"My brother died doing what he loved: helping people," said Debbie Bedard, Father Rene's sister. "And if it wasn't for the sheriff's department, all the agencies, they wouldn't have found my brother, and I thank God that they did so we can take him home."

Investigators from St. Johns and Duval counties are in Burke County, Georgia, where the local sheriff said the body believed to be Father Rene will be transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Atlanta for positive identification. The body was found four miles off Highway 56 around 7:30 p.m. Monday in Waynesboro, Georgia.

"It was obvious that he was the victim of homicidal violence," Shoar said.

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Father Rene was last seen April 10. Shoar said Father Rene was most likely killed between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. that night. A welfare check was conducted April 12 after Father Rene didn't show up for a funeral, and a missing persons investigation was launched. 

That same night, Father Rene's car, a blue Toyota, led authorities on a high-speed chase on Interstate 95 through St. Johns and Duval counties, and authorities lost track of the car in a road construction work site.

Late Wednesday, Father Rene's car was spotted in Aiken, South Carolina, and 28-year-old Steven Murray, the suspect in Father Rene's disappearance, was taken into custody early Thursday. During his time in South Carolina, Shoar said Murray committed additional crimes, such as burglary and taking weapons.

Murray was extradited to Florida and booked into the St. Johns County Jail late Friday. Over the weekend, a large-scale search for Father Rene was conducted on the westside of Jacksonville. Authorities believe Father Rene was trying to help Murray, who had recently gotten out of jail.

During the investigation, SJSO investigators "developed a rapport" with Murray, who led them to "several locations involved in this case to include where a body was found" on Monday, according to a release from SJSO.

"I thank this young man for coming forward, helping out on that part so we can get on with our life, we can bring our brother home. Can't forgive him. My brother may, my brother may when he gets to him, but I'm not going to forgive him," said Brian Robert, Father Rene's brother. 

Shoar said authorities are convinced the homicide happened in Georgia, so the charges will come from that jurisdiction. Murray also faces a kidnapping charge in Duval County, Shoar said. Authorities are uncertain how many trips Murray took to Aiken, South Carolina, from the time Father Rene was killed until Murray was taken into custody.

In addition to the news conference, Shoar released the following statement:

“I join many others within our community who were touched by Father Rene over the years and extend my condolences to his family and friends. He will be sorely missed. I am confident that all of the investigators will continue their hard work in seeking a successful prosecution of this heinous act.” He continued. “This complex investigation, that spanned three states and numerous counties, revealed an exemplary cooperation between many investigators and departments.”

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